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421. Job 42:7-9, God’s First Two Responses To Job
7 It came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. 8 Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to yourfolly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job.
In these verses I see God trying to win back Job's affection and allegiance. God does three things to try to do that.
a. God Says that Job Was Right All Along
God is in full desperation mode now. He has realized that Job, if not recalled from the declaration of freedom of verse 6, will simply leave Him. God doesn’t want that to happen. So, in verses 7-8, God repeats a thought that seems unlikely, or even untrue, when we first read it and appears even more unlikely as we think about it. In the context of the divine anger at Eliphaz and the two friends (Bildad and Zophar; Elihu is ignored), God says (42:7):
“My nose burns against/anger is kindled against you (Eliphaz and two friends) because you have not spoken of me what is nekonah, as has my servant Job."
God’s rage is captured in the familiar phrase before the quotation of verse 7 just given, charah aph (or, “his nose burned”), a phrase used of Job’s anger in 19:11 and of Elihu’s rage in the opening verses of Job 32. But the reason for the divine anger is that the friends didn’t speak nekonah, as Job has. Nekonah is an adjective derived from the common verb kun, which means “to be firm/established” or “to prepare/make ready.” The adjective form of the verb kun, that speaks of something “firm” or “established,” is something that is “right” or “true.” Thus, in Deuteronomy 13:14, in the context of a legal investigation into the correctness of the allegation that someone has worshipped foreign gods, it says that “if the charge is established/right/true (kun). . .” then severe consequences follow. The same use is present in Deuteronomy 17:4. The Psalmist uses the word in the same way in Psalm 5:10, where the Psalmist says, about his enemies, “There is no truth” (kun) in their mouths. That is best way to read the nekonah of 42:7 (repeated in 42:8).
How can it be that the friends have not spoken things that are true or right about God, while Job has? Let’s look first at this statement from Job’s perspective. On the one hand, this is just a commonplace and noncontroversial observation. Job had been blameless and upright at the beginning, middle and end of the book. Though his words might have been ill-chosen or rash at some points, we might say that his words have matched his ethics. True and right. But, on the other hand, we can scarcely believe our ears when we hear God say these words. Many of Job’s words have alleged injustice or cruelty on God’s part (“You have torn me in your wrath and hated me,” 16:9, is just one of a dozen that could easily be mentioned).
As argued more fully in When Leaving God is a Good Choice, I believe that God’s declaration of Job’s “rightness” here is a desperate ploy to win back Job’s affection. God has been acting like, well. . . er. . ., God and assuming that the creature has very few alternatives other than to affirm allegiance to Him. That is how Job was treated in the book. Job is the unintended recipient of a divine bargain with the Satan, which led to his dramatic suffering. When Job sought an explanation from God as to what is going on, God stonewalled him with a wonderful poetic description of some of nature’s marvels. But then Job had the last word—he melted away and found his consolation on the ash heap.
God now acts like a worried parent who knows s/he has gone too far with his or her unpredictable teenager and may be in danger of losing the loyalty or affection of that teenager forever. Such a parent often tries a number of strategies to win back the teen. One of them is verbal: ‘I understand what you have been going through’ or ‘You have good grounds for thinking XXX’ or, as in Job 42:7, 8, ‘You are right.’ We aren’t told in Job 42:7, 8 what about Job’s words as actually “right,” but because Job is linked directly with the three friends here, it must have to do with Job’s words all the way back to when the discussion with the friends started. Job is “right” or “true” and they are not. God is like the worried parent, desperately trying to win back Job’s affection.
b) Having Job Offer a Prayer
We don’t know at first if the divine strategy on point a) will win Job back. But God also has Job do something—perform a traditional act of piety to reconcile himself with the three friends. In verse 8 God asks the three friends to take seven bullocks and seven rams to Job, and then offer them up as a burnt offering. Job will then “pray for them” (using the common verb for pray, palal), and God will accept Job’s prayer. The reason for this requirement is difficult to translate and understand. God tells them to do this,
“Lest I do something nebalah to/with them” (v 8).
The Hebrew root n-b-l means “to be foolish,” but few scholars would render the adjective nebelah in that way. Indeed, most translations try to ignore the potential problem altogether by adding several words so that the phrase would read, “Lest I deal with you according to your folly,” but the text seems clear that nebalah is associated with God’s and not the friends’ work. Clines recognizes the problem and renders the phrase, “not to treat you outrageously.” Other suggestions recognize that the 13x-appearing word nebalah, in other places, seems to refer to sacrilegious or disgraceful acts (e.g., Judges 20:6, 10), as well as to foolishness. But we have a hard time trying to understand how God is restraining Himself from doing something disgraceful or sacrilegious to the friends. The worst that they might expect is facing the divine judgment which, though serious, can scarcely be called “disgraceful.” Perhaps this conundrum has led many translators to do what the NRSV, NASB, and most versions have done—to say that the nebalah refers to the friends rather than to God.
But doesn’t Job’s willingness to perform this act of prayer for the friends, at the divine behest, mean that Job is re-embracing faith after all? Not if this “prayer” is a “command,” which is what is appears here. God will require a prayer of Job. So, Job dutifully prays. The prayer seems to trigger the third reaction of God to Job’s declaration of faith freedom in verse 10. Yet, ultimately, it is a commanded prayer, and we can draw no inference regarding Job’s religious fidelity from his obeying the divine command. As I argued in When Leaving God is a Good Choice, God’s command to Job to pray seems to partake of a family situation in which one is “forced” to attend one last celebration with the family before being rid of them forever.